by J. Cuthbert Hadden
Somebody once said of Pachmann: "He is not so much a pianist as a personality."
And, indeed, it must be admitted that, though his abilities as a pianist
astonish one, the man himself is unique.
He has impressed his personality upon the public in a way and to an extent
which no other pianist has been able to do.
His impromptu lectures, his confidential asides, and his friendly smiles
may annoy some,
but they please a great number of people;
whether they be the conscious tricks of a shrewd actor or the naïve
outbursts of a genius,
there is art of itself in the way in which Pachmann can hold the
attention of a crowded concert-room.
No other pianist in the world dare so much as attempt a quarter of the things
Pachmann does with complete success.
It has often been remarked that he seldom does
himself justice in the opening number of his programme.
At one recital he found fault with his chair,
was visibly annoyed by his shirt collar, and confided to the nearest members
of the audience that it was impossible to play in such a heated atmosphere.
During his American tour of 1891-92, he was accompanied by his wife, who,
as Miss Okey, had been one of his pupils.
She gave some recitals in New York, and Pachmann made himself amusing
by sitting among the audience and applauding vigorously.
He went through marvellous contortions expressive of delight,
and was continually shouting "Charmante!" "Magnifique!" &c.
After all, why should the musician not seek to enter into personal
relations with his audience, if to do so happens to suit his fancy?
Pachmann is all through the friend of his audience.
Suppose he plays a scale. It is like a string of pearls.
"Bon!" he says, delightedly.
And he is quite right: it is beautiful.
Or the charm of some passage strikes him anew.
"The melody!" he exclaims enthusiastically,
and he marks out the melody for a bar or two,
so that the audience may be under no mistake.
It is a recital and a lecture in one.
Preposterous! some people say.
But the listener who cannot profit by the remarks of Pachmann,
knows more than Pachmann, and that kind of listener
is not usually present at his recitals!
It is best to accept the strange pianist as he is, with all his foibles.
He is undoubtedly a genius.
And all this elaborate presentment of his personality is no mere pose,
as many think: it is a thing natural to himself;
a manner over which he has no control.
Moreover, his behaviour, however unusual it may look,
never upsets his superlative playing.
Those who have not seen Pachmann play can have no
idea of what there is to "see," as well as to hear.
He will place his hand on his heart, and shake his head sorrowfully.
He winks, gesticulates, sighs, talks.
In the middle of an exquisite passage,
he will turn to those seated around him on the platform,
and seek to heighten the effect of the music by a series
of ecstatic exclamations,
p.65 perfectly sincere if somewhat disconcerting.
He is always on intimate terms with those sitting in the first few rows.
If any one should seem to be resenting his magnetic stare, he heeds not:
those dark, heavy eyes will still linger upon that face,
and he will still give the impression that he is playing
for that individual alone.
I have seen him leave the platform after a dozen recalls,
drawing from his pocket an immaculate handkerchief, unfold it,
and wave it in a last farewell.
If any one else did this, it would be ridiculous.
Done by Pachmann, it was most graceful.
He does not pose at the piano, as some do,
gazing abstractedly forward in complete absorption.
He turns his face to the public, fixing them with his glowing black eyes,
and holding them in complete control.
If he hears so much as a whisper while he is playing,
he promptly calls the offender to order.
If he is getting more applause than the thinks is agreeable,
his gesticulations with hands and arms indicate
that there has been enough disturbance.
If a repetition of some piece is insisted on,
he does not yield unconditionally,
but first consults his watch to see if there is time.
Whether genius is conscious of its own powers has often been debated.
Pachmann, at least, has no doubt about his standing.
"Je suis le roi des pianists," he says.
Being once asked to name the first five living pianists in order of merit,
he began: "Second, Godowsky;
p.66 third, Rosenthal; fourth, Paderewski;
English audiences, he says, "are often cold, but never when I play.
When I go on the platform it sometimes takes four or five minutes
before I can begin, and when I am finished they shout and scream."
He is not fond of the critics, and to an American interviewer
he told the truth about them in his own characteristic way.
"Critics," said the great little man, in a burst of indignation,
"critics are a canaille — a set of villainous rascals.
I never read what they write.
What harm can they do to my genius, my grand genius?
What care I, so long as my mere name suffices to attract the people?
The people admire and adore me. To them I am a god.
Kings, queens, and high nobility have kissed my hands.
What, then, have I to fear from critics?"
He is something of a humorist, too,
this little man who is big at the keyboard.
Once he saw an advertisement of piano lessons
given by a lady at tenpence an hour.
He answered the advertisement in person,
and on being asked to give a specimen of his abilities,
sat down and bungled through a Chopin waltz.
"That's shocking," said the lady. "You've been very badly taught."
"Yes," replied Pachmann, "but I began so late."
Then he paid his fee,
and left his card in the hand of the petrified instructress.
As a pianist Pachmann has a fashion all his own.
He does wonderful things with his fingers,
and his p.67 tone quality is beautiful — soft, sweet, and caressing.
There is no doubt a want of breadth, of nobility, of manliness,
of intellectuality about his playing;
and considerations of the intentions of the composer
probably never occur to him.
But he is a superb artist both in conception and development.
His playing is thoughtful and charged with sentiment,
and as an interpreter of Chopin he is absolutely unrivalled.
Vladimir de Pachmann was born at Odessa in 1848,
where his father was a professor in the University,
and a good amateur violinist.
When eighteen he was sent to Vienna Conservatoire,
and subsequently carried off the gold medal there.
Returning to Russia in 1869, he gave a series of successful recitals,
but he was not satisfied with himself, and retired for eight years' hard study.
At the end of that time he made appearances in Leipzig, Berlin,
and other places;
but, still dissatisfied, retired again for two years.
Emerging from his seclusion,
he gave three concerts in Vienna and three in Paris,
and now feeling himself perfect in his art,
he started on that career of concert-giving
which has made him everywhere famous.
There is very little gossip about his private life;
but the interesting fact may be stated that, after divorce, Mme. Pachmann,
already mentioned, became the wife of Maître Labori,
the famous French lawyer who defended Captain Dreyfus in 1899.
Pachmann is very short in stature —
so much so that after hearing him play,
one might well be tempted to lay down the axiom:
"The smaller the man, the greater the artist."
He has recently decided to make his home in Berlin.